Luncheon Encourages Women to 'Go Red' for Heart Health

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MADISON - One by one, they marched to the microphone, each with their own compelling reasons why they choose to "Go Red" for women's heart health:
  • Holding the hands of her two daughters, Eliz Greene explained that on the day Grace and Callie were born, she suffered a massive heart attack – at just 35. Since then, she's been dedicated to encouraging women with busy lives to pay attention to their heart health – both for their own sake, and for their families.
  • Daphne Brown lost her sister to heart disease and now makes it a personal priority to educate other women – particularly women of color – about their own risks. 
  • Ginger Martin stepped forward to honor her mother, a "beautiful, beautiful woman" who suffers from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes – all risk factors for heart disease.

"I'm doing everything in my power to prevent myself from meeting that same fate," said Martin, a DJ with 94.9 WOLX. When she's not hitting the airwaves, Martin's been hitting the pavement to train for a half-marathon.

"I choose to exercise every single day of the week to fight back against my family's history of heart disease," Martin said.

"Our Hearts. Our Choice." This was the message at the April 16 Go Red For Women luncheon at the Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin – a celebratory and educational afternoon encouraging women to love their hearts, inside and out.


Madison Go Red For Women Luncheon Co-Chairs Debbie Garten and Peg Van Bree

Madison Go Red For Women Luncheon Co-Chairs Debbie Garten of Murphy Desmond S.C. and Peg Van Bree of UW Hospital and Clinics

"'Go Red For Women' is more than just wearing red with a red dress pin," said luncheon co-chair and UW Hospital and Clinics senior vice president and chief operating officer Peg Van Bree.

"It's a nationwide movement that has a place right here in Madison," added Van Bree, referring to UW Health's exclusive Madison-area Go Red For Women sponsorship. The partnership with the American Heart Association, which started in 2006, gives women and girls the information and tools they need to be heart-healthy. UW Health recently renewed the Go Red sponsorship for another three years.

Women and Heart Disease: Signs and Symptoms

Though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women – about one every minute – only one in five women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat.

According to UW Health cardiologist Mary Zasadil, MD, many women ignore their heart symptoms, or they aren't even aware of the symptoms women commonly experience:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Fatigue 
  • Inability to sleep 
  • Rapid heart palpitations 
  • Frequent light-headedness 
  • Decrease in exercise capacity (inability to do things you normally do)

Dr. Zasadil said many women also don't realize that the hallmark symptom for men – chest pain – happens with much less frequency in women. For women, discomfort often occurs in different places, such as:

  • The jaw 
  • Teeth 
  • Arms 
  • Shoulders 
  • Back

Learn more about women's Heart Disease Facts and Symptoms

But even when they recognize their heart disease symptoms, many women put off seeing a doctor because they're too busy, or they put family needs first, Dr. Zasadil said. It's, "I'll worry about this as I get older," or "When the soccer season is done," or "When the kids are finished with school…"

But about 60 percent of women who die suddenly of cardiac events didn't have any previous symptoms, Dr. Zasadil says.

"Sometimes, there is no 'later,'" she said. "Sometimes, we only get one shot."

The Importance of Heart-Healthy Choices 

UW Hospital and Clinics CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky

UW Hospital and Clinics CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky at the Go Red Diva Photo Booth

Heart disease is largely preventable if women choose to act, and recent American Heart Association research shows that 96 percent of women who "Go Red" have taken at least one action toward a healthier lifestyle.

At the Go Red For Women luncheon, women were encouraged to take action and make the following choices:

'Listen to Your Bodies'

For Tracey Conway, these are choices she chooses to make every day. An Emmy-winning actress and the keynote speaker at the Madison Go Red luncheon, Conway was 38 when she collapsed onstage before a live audience at a Seattle sketch comedy show.

"My heart stopped beating completely – and I died," Conway said, showing the emergency response incident report as proof – under "Patient Condition on Arrival," Conway was marked as dead.

A volunteer firefighter in the audience immediately started CPR, and Conway overcame 20-to-1 odds to survive sudden cardiac arrest. Fourteen years later, she now travels the country speaking to audiences from maximum-security inmates to "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Looking back on the night she came back from the dead, Conway says she now realizes she ignored some signs of trouble. She encourages women to call their doctors when something just doesn't feel right.

"Please – even though it's awkward, even though it's inconvenient – please listen to your bodies," Conway said. "They're talking to us."

Asking those in the luncheon audience to place their hands on their chests and pay close attention to their hearts, Conway then asked women to take her personal heart pledge:

I pledge allegiance, to my heart
Of the united organs of my body
And to the blood vessels for which it pumps
One woman, under stress
In this busy world
With love for me and just bliss for all

Date Published: 08/27/2009

News tag(s):  go redheartmary l zasadil

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